I managed to read thirty-six books this year. The number is not really important, but I happened to keep a list this time around and that is how I know. I read broadly, for professional development, personal learning and simply, for pleasure – I usually have several books in progress.
The one book I read this year that I would recommend most highly is Deep Work, by Cal Newport. While we are there, the author’s previous book So Good They Can’t Ignore You makes for a related, excellent (though not required) prior read.
The author defines deep work as activity performed in a distraction-free environment over (ideally) extended periods of time, to push your cognitive abilities to the edges of what you are capable of. This is how you improve and how you create value. It is difficult. The author makes the argument that the ability to do this is extremely valuable and increasingly rare in today’s world. The book, divided in two parts, first argues for the value of this idea and the pursuit of deep work and then, in part two, proceeds to provide practical advice for achieving times of deep work.
In the context of career development, a lot of this applies most obviously to the circumstances of the knowledge worker. I happen to be working in technology/software engineering and I am very aware of the necessity of being able to go deep.
Work aside though, the author insists:
A deep life is a good life.
Anecdotally, those days when I am able to avoid distractions and achieve periods of depth tend to be my most productive as well as my happiest. In this age of distraction and short attention spans, this book presents most welcome thinking.